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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  March 19, 2011 9:00am-10:00am EDT

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patriotic american would see things. and so much of her history is written by europeans who don't have that high of a view of america but we ought to something written by an american, about the world. >> thank you very much for your time. >> my pleasure. >> belva davis was the first african-american female news anchor on the west coast. she recounts her life and the many stories she has covered during an appearance at the hue-man bookstore in new york city. ..
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>> i, basically, am a southern girl. i wasn't part of the great migration. we got there a couple of minutes before that started. was born in monroe, louisiana, and that is the northern part of louisiana. doesn't even have the romance of being, you know, new orleans and all of those customs. but i was born in 1932, and you can do the math. in this town right after what they call the flood of the century on the river. my mother was 15 years old when i i was born, she worked as a laundryist. i was soon, as families do in the south, given the label of being a farmed-out kid. the first farming out, though, was the best part of my young life. i was given to my mother's middle sister, i went to live with her. she was a childless woman who wanted a baby very badly.
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so i was very, very spoiled up to the time that i was about three and a half years old. after that, the world changed. she had tuberculosis and died for a child, suddenly. obviously there must have been signs, but i didn't know about it. and i was fortunate enough to be sent to the home where my mother and father lived. except also in the southern style, it was a very crowded facility, i call it that. because people came from the country when they got a job, went back when they didn't have one. they came from mississippi or wherever they were living, and we all sort of bunked in together. remember, these were the depression years. what i was given was what a lot of small children were given back in those those days. there were no bedrooms for all of us, so i had what was called a pallet which was my very own. [laughter] it was blankets that are put together, and you sleep on them
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at night, and you roll them up during the day. it made it very easy when i was being transferred from one relative to the other because i had very few things to pack up and luggage to take with me, if that. i don't think i remember my first suitcase until i was on the train to california. so that's how i started. by the time we were ready to migrate to california, i had lived in seven different homes by then, all of them homes of relatives, all of them people who were doing the best they could by a little girl that was quiet, withdrawn and constantly trying to find ways to please so that maybe somebody would keep me permanently. and that did not happen. we ran into not traditional, but something that probably has happened to many southern blacks. my uncle, brave guy that he was, worked for a meat packing
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company. he experienced an accident, a serious one. one of my aunts, one of the households where my aunts worked there was a young, white lawyer who heard of my uncle's permanent injuries and filed a lawsuit on my uncle's behalf. we thought nothing of it except that there was a real buzz as to why a black man would ever think he could file a lawsuit against a major company in the south and get away with it. but soon we pound that through some -- found that through some miracle a judge somewhere ruled in my uncle's favor, and we had about ten minutes where i watched the adults rejoice. and soon that evening the young lawyer came to let my family know that the decision had been made by some in the community that he should be tarred and feathered and that in the southern tradition it would be best if all the men left the south. and so the plans started that
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evening to, as quickly as possible, get the adult men out of our house. most of them went by automobile. my uncle went on a freight train, and that's how we join -- preceded the great migration, but only so slightly. it was a while, as also custom, before the women left. and then an even longer while before the children left, at least my brother and i. so we were sent off to arkansas to live with a grandfather, and that's where we stayed until my father came for me. i felt all of my life that my brother was the favorite because he was the baby that got to stay home. [laughter] so that was the way we came to california. i would say to my brother, i'm so glad that daddy loves you because then i get to go with you. and so that was my thought of my importance in that circle. so you can see why i would write
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a book that says "never in my wildest dreams." expectations were not high as to what i would become. but i think all of those shifting around, moving from place to place, gaining knowledge from relative to relative as to what makes for a good person, learning that dedication to work, honesty, that's one thing my aunt could not stand. she just hated a liar, she said. so -- and i lived with her through much of my life. so we moved to california, and i thought this was going to be it. this is going to be, you know, this is peaches and honey and all of the good things. but as what happened by then, there was a war, and we were living in a basement apartment, like many others, sharing these facilities, and there were 11 of us in this two-bedroom basement apartment. but we made it, they made it,
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they all ended up getting their own homes, and eventually i went with my aunt and her husband to live in one of the brand new housing projects. and, oh, boy, were we glad to get it. and for a quick minute i had my own bedroom. [laughter] that was something. and as life would have it, soon after my uncle or my uncle, yeah, my uncle's brother and his six children arrived, and life changed again. so i was very accustomed to change. so it's noting nothing for me tt used to the pace of a journalist where there's constant change and constant moving around because you learn to adapt to whatever it is. and life for me continued along a path that could have been predicted. i did well in high school. i passed my sat scores very high, and i forgot one thing. i forgot about money.
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and i didn't have anyone in my family who'd ever gone to college, so by the time i realized i needed $300 to go to college, it was too late for scholarships, and no one in my family had the money, so i went to work. soon after was married, soon after that had two children and started a different life until one day i grew up. and when i grew up, it was because i read so much, that i knew so much from reading, and i loved reading. and i attempted writing. certainly, it was of the caliber that if you, in those days, if you got a magazine and there was little writing contests in there, you could send it off. you know, i don't think that anybody ever answered, but it was a great opportunity for me to pretend to be a writer. and life then took a twist. i started to try to help women in our community, and the black middle class women were just realizing they had a place in the nonprofit world with various
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charities. so i started writing little cut lines for photographs that would go in the black newspapers to talk about working for the march of dimes or whatever it was and started to work with a photographer named chuck willis. his darkroom man was with bill moore, the man i'd been married to for 46 years. [laughter] so that was -- [applause] so what started out as trying to help others turned into a real winning proposition for me. and that work led to my first page -- if you want to call it that -- was for "jet" magazine as a stringer. i got $5 a week, and can that was because the bay bridge toll was 25 cents, so that was to coffer getting to san francisco to cover events. and for that i got a job working for a black weekly newspaper. and that's where i learned a lot. my editor or was a former ap
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reporter who'd spent 18 years in the far east. he just had a problem with too many drinks. and finally after 18 years, ap sent him home, and no one would hire him but the owner of a black weekly newspaper. and i was his only staff member. so i learned to do everything, you know, write headlines, pick up the copy, pick up the safeway ads, bring back the proof sheets, whatever it took to get that little newspaper published. but it was while there that i had one of the greatest and most surprise, i think of it now as a fun event in my life. while working there one day the bell rang, that's what we had in the front. we had no receptionist, so when the bell rang, we knew someone was there. so the guy i was working with went to the front, and soon the bell rang again, and he said, can you help me out?
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i said, what's going on? he said, well, malcolm x is here -- i don't think he called him malcolm x, i'm not sure. he had a proper name, better than i e can remember right now. the man with him said, well, ma'am, brother malcolm don't talk to white people, and i said, what? he said, that's right. i said -- i didn't know what to do, and so i said, well, what do you want? they went on to explain that they wanted to place some copy in our paper. and i said that to daryl, they want to place some copy in our paper. and daryl said to me, well, how much is it, and are they willing to pay? and i said -- he said, how much is it and are you willing to to pay? [laughter] and we told him, and they said, we're not paying anything. they're not paying anything. [laughter] so finally daryl said, i don't have enough space, and i will have to edit it. and i repeated it, of course, for which i was told -- one of
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them said we can't have you do that. no. we can't -- yeah, we can't have you do that. and it was at that point that i turned to daryl and said they don't want to do that, and we stood there silently for a moment, and then with a smile on his face, malcolm says, i will edit it myself. and that's how we, that' my malcolm x story. i was an interpreter for two men standing less than 2 feet apart of different colors who needed somebody to interpret in english what they were saying to each other. [laughter] i don't think anybody else has had that experience with malcolm. i have been in his presence, and so on, as part of my job for the press, but it was a wonderful moment, and had i not been there working for pee mutts -- peanuts, i probably never would have experienced it. but that led to other jobs with a black newspaper which then led
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to the idea in my mind that i wanted to go further. so i took a job -- i got a job in radio. these jobs did not come with salaries. they came with a dedication to learn. so i learned a bit about radio. finally got a clerical job, put me in a position to deal with people who sold air time. i was the traffic manager. it was very clear to people that i wanted to be on the air. finally, the new salesman got smart, knew if he wanted his commercials to run at the proper time he would find a show, and the belva davis show was born. and i had the show that was for women, supposedly i was a women's editor there at -- program directer at the station. and i put the show on on saturdays where all sorts of famous people would come by. and i, once a month, would have a little luncheon where i would
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use the fried chicken from my sponsor, foster farms chicken, peaches from del monte and whatever else it took to make fried chicken, potato salad and a peach cobbler and invited women and had a studio full of people. mel to have may, nancy wilson, they would come on saturdays. the ladies would enjoy lunch and, boy, this was a fun life until one day my news editor at the station invited me to go with him because he needed help, and he was a one-man band to the republican national convention. it was being held at the cow palace in san francisco. and i volunteered to go. we couldn't get credentials because we were black. they were not credentialing people of color. there were very few delegates, but one of them we knew, and he was on this central committee, and he got us two tickets for the gallery. we were there the first day, and we got by okay.
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second day former president eisenhower made a speech that came close to being racist. from that speech, of course, as today the high school gans took over -- high school i gans took over. they berated the press. they used language that i could not repeat in calling members of the press by name. in fact, on one very famous correspondent was arrested and taken off the floor that night. soon the attention turned to louis and i, and we were there, and louis was a man of steel nerves, i call it, or at least he was a really great actor. so we said, he said we will not be driven out. so we took our time packing our gear because by now we're surrounded. there's no security. we don't know what to do. then they started to throwing things at us. we still worked at a normal pace, got our gear together,
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started our walk down that long ramp to get down to the main floor, and by that time things were getting a little hot because we could hear bottles hitting the floor that were being thrown over, down the aisle. as we were going and the one bottle got close to my head, people asked me, how can you after all these years remember this? and i said, how many times have you had a bottle thrown at your head? if you have, you will remember that it happened. so my lip started to quiver because i thought i was really going to lose it. and louis whispered in my ear, if you cry, i will break your leg. [laughter] for some reason that made sense to me, that he would do this if we ever got out of there. but then the real fear came when we hit the door, and this lonely cow palace and in the dark of night as to whether we'd make it
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to our car. we did. and in the car driving back, we talked about it. and i realized that we'd been harangued, but we were people with no power. none of the daily press would even be interested in our story, we thought. but i said those guys in there have been doing a great job down south. they have covered dr. king, they have started to move america. i want to be one of them. if i'm going to get ranged, i -- harangued, i want to have some power to fight back. why would i make that decision? no college, no training, no education, never been -- i didn't have anything to convince me that any white employer would want to hire me. but i started applying all around the place. and finally i was doing, of all things, a beauty panel gent for black girls -- pageant for black girls that i considered my civil rights work because it was my fight against miss america that
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denied our girls the right to participate. so we had started our own pageant. i presented the girls on television, and a writer from a daily paper wrote that surely somewhere in television there must be a place for belva davis. and i acted as though that was carved in concrete. and just applied to everybody and everything until finally in 1966 i read a story about a wonderful republican woman who loved ronald reagan and had said that if he was elected, she would quit her anchor job and go and work for him. the day he was elected, i called her boss, and i told him i wanted to apply for her job. and he said, what do you mean you want to apply for her job? i said, well, she's going to be leaving. why do you think she's going to be leaving? many i read it in the -- i read it in the newspaper.
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it took a couple of weeks before they had wrapped it up and the job was open. and about 70 women applied, and for whatever reason, the westinghouse-owned cbs station had hired the only black in our area, black man named ben williams, and six months later they hired me. and so they had two black people in the state of california working on their channel, of all channels, and ben and i took our responsibilities very seriously. because we knew that we had to do well. neither of us knew anything about television. but we both had faith that what we wanted to do was a good thing for our time and in our place. and that was the beginning of a television career that has now spanned 43 years without a break, never a day without a
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job, and that's something i'm very proud of. [applause] so this charmed life that came from nowhere, from a dream has taken me on journeys that i couldn't have imagined. i've had the opportunity to come south, to go to georgia, have my chance to do my march, have my opportunity to be spat upon straight away in my face by a cute little blond gal that i asked a question of. i've had the opportunity to go to the white house. i've had the opportunity to talk to presidents. i've had the opportunity to twice go to cuba and interview fidel castro. i was called upon by the labor movement to go to south africa after nelson mandela's election to try to work with the plaques and the white -- blacks and the whites to tell them what it was
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like to go in and integrate a broadcasting operation because south african television, as you well know, was all white. but we had to have separate meetings because each had their own fear. so both my husband and i were privileged to be the people to travel in south africa for well over three weeks just trying to talk to both sides to get them to see what was possible if you're determined to do well. i think my most memorable trip outside of this country, though, was to kenya and to tanzania. and i was there 1998 right after the bombing of the u.s. embassies there. and i landed there through a fluke. i'm sitting on the news desk reading copy about the bombings, and whoever had written my copy -- because it was a breaking story -- wrote about the fact that 12 americans had died. and i got off the set and started to read the story myself, and then i found out 214
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africans had died and 5,000 others had been injured, and it was never mentioned. so i had a little belva tantrum. i was known for those over race issues. and there was nothing it except they didn't, you know, just not pay attention. so talked about it, and a few couple of weeks later i'm at a social event, and i'm saying how distressed i am, and a young black woman physician with the national medical association -- you know, that's the black medical association -- said i, too, am enraged about this, but i'm doing something about it. i've been soliciting. i have about $250,000 worth of medical supplies that i'm going to take to africa. would you like to come along? and, boy, did i want to come along. [laughter] but i thought, i have about a snowball's chance in hades like this book, you're beginning to understand the title.
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but i'm a local reporter in san francisco wanting to go on a story that no american team is in kenya or in nairobi at that time. there was reuters and us when we got there. but i'm getting a little bit ahead. we, i petitioned my news directer, i laid out the story, and i almost fell over, fainted when he said, yes, you could go. and so with a team, my husband and a photographer and two black physicians, we went, we took off for kenya with these supplies. and i started to read this part to you, but i think i'll just tell it to you pause we went there -- because we went there over the objections of our government. we also knew that the cia was very much focused on why we wanted to do this. so we were uncomfortable, and we felt that we were truly on our own from the beginning. but the kenyans embraced us whole heartedly. i was so moved by the way they
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had handled the hysteria that had followed those bombings. the sigh chi risk trysts -- psychiatrists of nairobi got together, and on the radio they counseled people. they had call-ins, people who were injured, people who were frightened, people who needed goods, they talked to us because it was why us? why me? why no aid from the u.s.? and they spent two solid weeks almost nightly and daily counseling the citizens of that area. so when we arrived with some of the supplies they needed to help these people which were not available, they were all-embracing. when we went to the airport to pick them up, though, we found they were missing. this was the administration of president hue way known for those things that presidents of that era are known for. so we asked about it, and nobody could find it. the second day we went back, and by now we're impatient because now we've seen these patients in the hospital, and we know how
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much they need this materials that we brought. so standing there in the hangar where they were supposed to be, i was finally referred to a man that looked are important. i was told he was one of the president's sons. and i went over to him, and i explained to him, you know, we photographed this material when it was being loaded off trucks onto air france planes, flown here prix of charge. i -- free of charge. i have videotape of those planes taking off. i have a bill of lading from air france telling me that that plane landed here, and here's a list of what they say it contained. and if you don't find it, everybody in in the world is going to know about this. now, how was i going to have everybody in the world know? but we stood, and we stared at each other intensely. and finally with a smile, this young man, whoever he was, said, well, just wait. i will be back.
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and surely enough, about a half hour later he reappeared, and he said, come with me. my husband thought we were coming with me to the jail because he thought that was what they did with people who crossed the government, and the kenyans had told us that you just disappear. and so we went with him, and there were the supplies. and the doctor, a strong, brave woman, just broke down in tears. and i dared not join her, though i wanted to very much, because the steely-eyed man was still looking at me. [laughter] but i think for me there were many moments in my career that i could say were treasured moments, and i'll talk about some of those. but that is the one that i am so grateful for my beginnings and what i learned about what you can do if you just keep pushing to the wall.
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my motto as a reporter always had been yesterday was yesterday, tomorrow's challenges is what you worry about. you can't take that baggage and let it drag you down. you just have to keep moving forward. if not, you'll be weighted, and they will have accomplished whatever those who don't want you to succeed didn't want you to do. that is really the motto behind 43 years of success. and that is being able to lay it down from time to time and move on, refresh yourself with whatever the new challenge is. we faced many in the bay area, as you know. we had the jonestown massacre/murder. we had our mayor and supervisor killed by a fellow supervisor. we had the sla kidnapping. we had -- my daughter is here,
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found out about this later -- threats to our daughter's life because of the patty hearst kidnapping. we're confronted as to how much of that we should tell her and how much of that she should know about, but we believed it enough that we moved from our home in the suburbs to a place two blocks from our, my office. and i can't say that my daughter was a kind person during those days. she was very upset. [laughter] because she had left her friends behind for reasons she didn't understand. but those things happen. and like most black reporters from time to time, i had my turn with the authorities, with the police department. and my son was the person who paid a price for that. it was only in fear, but he was finally arrested for making an illegal right-hand turn because i was reporting on racial profiling. and i had two, three, four black
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police officers confirm the theories of the story, and it was more than the department could take. so that is my journey. enough cede. [laughter] -- said. i hope that you will read the book. there are many more story about many, many people and a long relationship from the beginning with the black panther party to the end. huey newton and i were born in the same town, our fathers knew one another. and so i had friends who helped them in their early days to become what they eventually became, internationally famous. but for some of the wrong reasons. i keep going further, but i'll stop. and if you have questions, i'd be happy to take them. there's a mic for anybody who would like to speak.
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>> hello, belva. >> hello. >> gary ramsey. >> yes, of course. [laughter] >> yes. my question for you is following what you went through way back when and up till now, it seemed for a time that the industry was growing in terms of its representation. in the last ten years, it's been almost a reversal of that. with the digital media coming in, i mean, do you see, do you see a change in that, or do you think that it will have to go back to the way it was where black people have to find their own sort of niches to get information that represents their community? >>heƱ well, we're in a business-ready industry. the business of journalism has changed radically. we're still trying to figure out what the formula is for the future. we know that technology is the
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greatest killer of jobs in terms of reporters that's out there. we have not, through -- i work very closely with the television union, american federation radio and television artists -- and for years i was the eeo chair fighting for more employment. it's difficult when you're in an environment where the government no longer keeps statistics on who's working and who's not. we fought that battle and of all things wanted to a degree with the republican administration, something that we have not been able to build on during the obama administration. we have not found this fcc as friendly as we had hoped it would be. plus that, the way jobs are, are described today they're multitasking assignments. if you're working print, you're
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still taking pictures, and you're still doing video, and you're blogging and doing all kinds of things that reporters never had to do. if you're in television, you're shooting, you're editing, and you're reporting. you're doing all sorts of things that my generation never had to do. all these blogging opportunities, so the people in charge can feel the world is open, go start your own. that's what they say. if you have the skills and the ability. but we know that universeally if we are to exist as a unit, as a country we have to have reliable voices that we can trust, or how are you going to manage yourself? how are you going to manage the politics of your country if you have a right and a left press and you're left in the middle to try to figure out what's right, what's wrong? and as newspapers have closed down and gone to using the tools of the trade today, they have found less need for people to gather information. they're just as happy to pass it around between each other
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because it makes the bottom line look better. so it's a challenging period. it's challenging in its own ways, and in a way more challenging than it was at my beginnings. because we at least had the government to turn to. and we had the equal employment opportunities me to help us -- committee to help us bring the first group of people in. you know what's sad about that now? a lot of those people, they're younger than me, they're senior reporters, they're at the top of the wage scale. the way business works, you fire the people making the most money. they don't ask you about ability, skills, they just look at the payroll cut. so these are new challenges now. and i certainly don't have the answer to it because then i'd be beyond the circuit selling that knowledge. [laughter] but, but i do know that it takes looking reality square in the eye to stop wishing for what was yesterday and figure out what tomorrow is.
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that's the only way you can win the bat. battle. yes. >> hi, good evening. i have a quick question. do you think that the standards in journalism compared to yesterday has changed in any way today? for example, when i'm reading, say, articles online, i think the quality of the written word is deplorable, and half the time the content that they're supposed to be covering, they're not even covering the full facts. they're just giving you a bunch of jargon or i will call bs. so i wanted to know your thoughts on maintaining the standards of yesterday, but adapting them into today's new media, so to speak. >> right. standards are not being met. and we know that. you know, when you can have npr make a huge mistake by just getting the wrong information and trying to get it fast, to me, that's a sign that we'd better slow up. and i think a lot of people are beginning to get that at least a little bit.
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we really take gossip as news. i love social media, not that i practice it, but i think it's a great thing for people who want to connect with one another and want to be social and want to have friendships that grow. i think you should do that. but you shouldn't call it journalism. i think that -- i don't say you have to maybe go as far as i did when i started. if i came up with the new bit of information, i had to come to my desk and say, yes, i've checked three sources for this. i don't even know if people know about two sources now. much of the stuff guess on the air by hearsay. so, no, we're at a point where we're going to have to -- and i, we're getting into these troubled times of the republicans and the budgets and what is truth and what is not, and we've let this just float because we didn't have whatever it took to fight back. we let the foxes of the world take over and lead the discussions.
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and eventually, i know that there are a couple of people that i'm familiar with who are traveling around the country trying to organize a different outlook at least on the news so that you get still a right and a left. nowhere where we should be as journalists, but i have no real answer as to what we do to make it happen, yeah. >> good evening. it's a pleasure for you to be here. >> thank you. >> i'd like to ask you a question. the 1996 telecommunications act that was passed by congress, do you think that destroyed a lot of things that we -- because you have one station, well, owns like here in new york, own a couple of other stations in town. >> yes. >> there's really no opportunity. do you think the telecommunications act destroyed a lot of things? >> well, those out there, you know, had been working on this for a very long time, they were just able to formalize it with that.
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i walked into a station in san francisco, cbs station, there were nine logos on the door. nine operations in that one building. and it's going to get tighter with the purchase of nbc by comcast. nobody seems to know how to stop this freight train because no one wants to be opposed to commerce and, you know, job creation. there is no job creation that i've seen that's come out of most of these big mergers. but, yes, of course, we need -- i mean, the fcc is weak at best. the law is very much on the side. we're almost afraid to go to the supreme court with anything because we don't want it codified that some of these actions are legal. and so we keep working around them and lobbying and trying to do the best we can. i think as i said before, i don't mean to be a naysayer, but i think we're in perilous times in terms of really hanging on to what those on the right keep talking about the american
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dream, and they don't seem to really understand that that mean freedom. >> ms. davis, i have to start off by thanking you for making it possible for young people like myself who want to get into journalism, particularly broadcast journalism, if that's what we choose to do, to be able to have the opportunity to do it. so i want to thank you for that. >> thank you. >> i was surprised to hear you say earlier that it was as difficult now to get into the industry than it was when you started. i would have thought it would have been the opposite. but it seems as though that for people my age now at this time who want to get into broadcast journalism, we have to sort of reinvent things as opposed to our white counterpart because it's the opportunities seem to be more available for that. what advice, and i know it's cliche, what advice would you have for people of color, young people who want to get into the industry particularly on tv to
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sort of distinguish ourselves and become marketable in this industry? >> well, i think that's where this thing that my union really dreaded, the fact that i say this. i think it's learning the tools of today's trade that you've got to do, but you have to have in your back pocket all of the basics of journalism; good writing, you know, to be curious, to have some passion, to want to bring something to the table. because that's what will drive you to tolerate the tools of the trade. but if you don't start with that in your heart, you don't start with that kind of expansion, then it's going to be even more difficult because you won't get that inward glow that comes from having done something because you know it's right. but the tools of the business drug so many people down, you know? there are people who are in tv that don't want to edit, that don't want to shoot, they don't want to do whatever they don't want to do. but there are very few places you can go and not be required
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to do it. and i know the union fights it all the time. we're still battling it, you know? the one-man band. but it just seems to be like rabbits growing everywhere. [laughter] so when i say tough, i meant because i had a community that fought to get me my job. they were there ready to picket, and picketing meant something. this was a commission -- there was a commission whose job it was, it was a report that called for the hiring of black americans to cover the news more fairly. so i had those tools. you don't have those tools. you're just out there in the world of commerce trying to figure out how you can fit what you want to do into the scheme where somebody will pay you to do it. now, what we need to do is what those other kids you're talking about of other colors -- except we don't have as many family members with connections that can help us grow, you know, the
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beginning projects. so we have to do what we've always said we needed to do as black people, learn to work together more and to find some of those people who are sitting on top of the empire state building with great jobs and big money whose skin is brown to somehow get them to realize in the end they, too, are black, and they really need to look for a product and proteges and people who can tell a story. [applause] okay. all right? oh. one question. >> i read your book -- >> just a moment. here he is. >> hi. i read your book, and you talked today very calmly and almost matter-of-factly about your childhood and growing up and the pallet you slept on on the floor in the kitchen under the table,
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am i correct? >> no. i spent my high school, tenth through twelfth grade. i lived with my aunt, and this is the crazy thing about people who are slightly nuts. [laughter] we were very poor. we had a house, and it had a dining room table. and, but there were not many bedrooms. so i was still the pallet kid. so from the tenth to the twelfth grade, i slept on the floor under the dining room table. but the funny part about it, i had a little job, so i saved up enough money because my white girlfriends were having sweet sixteen parties, and i threw myself a sweet sixteen coming out party. [laughter] right on -- centered around the table that became my bedroom at night. now, none of my friends ever knew that i slept there. i didn't even tell my close friends that. but it just tells you what you can do and how silly you can be when you're a dreamer. >> i just think it's so interesting because your
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childhood was so much harder than you're making it seem, and to me t remarkable that you've come that to where you are now. it's extraordinary. >> i just want to say, you know, basically, my real motive in writing book was to write it for young people who think they have barriers that they cannot cross today, that because they lived in the project, because they didn't have any money, because they didn't make it to here, they didn't get this degree or the other, they should just lay back and let the world float by. we all have an individual responsibility to use every gift that god has given us to the best of our ability. if that's it, thank you -- >> one more. >> okay. >> i think one of the things that struck me in, you know, my short time -- i say short time, about 20 years in the business -- is you mentioned the people of color who were at the top. there are, while there are a
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great number of people like yourself who have made it a part of their mantra to reach back, i would have to say there's an equal number of those who have, basically, decided i've got mine, you go get yours. >> yes. >> i mean, what is the psychology behind that? because they don't come from my time. they're certainly older than me. and is there any way, you know, is there any way to turn that around and make more of them responsible for what it is that they're supposed to do? >> i sometime treat my brothers and sisters who come from that environment as though they were foreign students, and that's why i wrote this book. [laughter] i think they need to read and hear more from those of us who have had to come the long route. many of them are the people that were chosen for the harvard scholarships and the free education and made the associations with other groups, you know, with, you know, living wherever people go who are rich on these, on these trips.
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and for us it's silicon valley. we have a number of very high-ranking blacks in silicon valley that you never see at anything that's even associated with being plaque. you, i worked very hard to establish a museum in the bay area called the museum of the african diaspora about five years ago it opened. for that our mayor, willie brown, decided that we were going to put this black museum as part of the five-star st. regis hotel in the convention center of san francisco. well, as mayor, he could make them give us the space, but he couldn't make them pay for it. so i somehow got chosen to be the person as i was winding down my career to raise almost $6 million for this museum in two years. i did because it represented all that i respect. the oneness of the human race, the fact that the earliest relics of human life come from the african continent, and the
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theory by the leading scientists at both berkeley and stanford are that, indeed, this is a true story, and this museum is dedicated to telling that story. and so while i was doing that, to raise the money, of course, i thought these fat cats from google and so on would be my first ones that i would get to to, you know, and they'd write the check. not one of them did. in fact, one man of color who bought the top floor at the st. regis hotel for $30 million, was one who i thought would be, you know, a guy that, after all, we're in the basement of the building he's in. eventually, he did give some money, but during those first years i was so wide-eyed that i really just -- they had more millions than they would ever know what to do with, and it didn't happen. and i think we have to look at educating these people, too,
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along with everybody else. [laughter] >> i want to thank -- [inaudible] say thank you to you. i want to say thank you to you, belva davis. i have known you for a very, very long time, since the days of your beauty pageant which was an awesome experience. [laughter] and i have watched you connect the dots between culture and commerce and politics, and in a way that belies the upbringing that i did not know about until i read the book. and i, before i knew it, there were tears coming down my face because i've never seen you not as perfectly poised as you are right now. it would never in my wildest dreams would i think that you had ever to endure anything that you had. and i want to thank you for being such a formidable role model and for not stepping back
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from that, but rather for embracing it. and look at the bar that you have raised for everyone that you opened the door for to come through after you. it's a high bar, and it should be. because as much as you've done, there is still so much more to do, so i just want to say thank you, belva davis. [applause] >> thank you. thank you, florine reilly. thank you. [applause] i and really -- and i really am grateful to all of you who have come out tonight. i hope that you will read -- there's lots more to this story in my professional life which i skirted over because i know that you know about those events. you know something about the circumstances of it. but what you don't know is the blackness of the stories, and every one of these big incidents, something happened that was unique to the fact that i was a plaque woman. black woman on the scene of that story. and that's the other story that needs to be told, that we can
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integrate, but when we get into the newsroom, we're going to see things a little bit different. we're going to have to fight, and we're going to have to, you know, sort of be disliked every now and then. but it's why those people who marched in alabama and mississippi took the beatings they took for us. and we owe 'em. >> last question. >> belva, i came in to thank you earlier. as someone who was in media in the bay area while you were at westinghouse and you were just an incredible role model the whole time i was there, i want to say not only did your struggle to make it as a woman of color in news, you gave us as we were trying to get into sales, in media sales in the bay
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area, you were an inspiration to those of us. and i was one of the few to get into media sales and, ultimately, worked at kwix. -- kpix. but we always looked at you as an example. belva made it in news, and we could make it in sales. >> we all know station managers come out of the sales department, so by the time i could see some black faces in the sales, my hopes were high maybe one of these days. [laughter] okay. >> great, thank you so much. thank you all for coming. it's amazing. just want to give a shout out to cheryl who is in the audience. and just want to say thank you so, so much because this is the conversation we're having with our children. if you could do so much with so little, you know, what can they do with all that they've got? so, you know, the books are at the register. we hope that you not only get one for yourself, but pass it on
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to a child. we have to make this message known. we have to make these legacies clearly understood. if we're going to move forward. so thank you very much for being here. >> thank you so much. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> to find out more, visit the author's web site, author, poet and playright ishmael reed, known for his satire call approach to culture, he's written over 25 books including "barack obama and the jim crow media." join our three-hour conversation taking your phone calls, e-mails and tweets for ishmael reed, sunday, april 3rd at noon erin, on c-span2. and watch previous "in depth" programs at c-span where
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you can also find the entire weekend schedule. >> about five years ago, i got a letter from a teacher that i had in eighth grade in chicago. she had saved one of my papers that i had written about thanksgiving. >> host: she must have really liked this paper. >> guest: she really liked this paper. and she mailed it to me, and she said, i've kept this all these years because it was one of the best papers i had gotten from a student, and i read that paper, and i was going, hey! >> host: you were hot stuff. q >> guest: i was really good. [laughter] thanksgiving. >> host: the blessings of thanksgiving. >> guest: kind of what it meant to me, i don't know. >> host: is it on your refrigerator now at your house? >> guest: it's in some box with all my memorabilia. [laughter] but it was remarkable that she had saved that. but anyhow, apparently, i did write pretty well, and i had an
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english teacher that said you need to join the high school newspaper. and i had never thought of writing. i actually liked acting. i was in a lot of plays and thicks like that -- things like that which i'm very grateful i was now because that helped me as a television broadcaster. >> host: with your voice and your -- >> guest: learning how to use and project your voice and not being afraid to get in front of people and speak. so i joined the newspaper, and they gave me a column called "division news." they weren't home rooms there, they were called divisions. and my job was to go around to all the home rooms and interview people about what was going on with the people in that home room. [laughter] >> host: great. >> guest: it was actually kind of a gossip column or something. who won the spelling bee and who won the science fair. >> host: yeah. >> guest: but i enjoyed so much having access that me, carole,
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could go around to these rooms and talk to the teachers and talk to the students and know things before anybody else knew them. and then write them up and see my byline? oh, my goodness. well, you must feel the same way. [laughter] >> host: it's a -- >> guest: isn't it a heady, it's kind of a heady experience. >> host: yes, indeed. and so you make the decision that this is going to be your life's work. >> guest: i loved it. i'm like, i love this. >> host: yeah, yeah. the attention, the access -- >> guest: people coming up to me wanting to tell me information. >> host: right, right. >> guest: and i was a curious child who read a lot. i guess i was pretty nerdy. but it all worked; the reading, the writing, the access and being able to ask questions and get answers was just wonderful, and i said this is what i want to do. but did i know anybody black who was a reporter?
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did i know anybody, white woman, that was a reporter or any woman? all i knew was lois lane from superman. [laughter] >> host: right. >> guest: and brenda starr from the comic books. but the idea, i knew there was a chicago tribune and a chicago sun sometimes -- sun times and a chicago daily news. there were all kinds of great newspapers in chicago at the time, and my parents were avid newspaper readers. and so seeing the bylines in the newspaper there and that people were covering things about murders and fires and politics, i just decided that's, i had to do that. >> host: and you go, and you tell your parents this is what you've decided, you want a career as a journalist. what do they say? >> guest: ha, ha, ha, ha, silly girl. silly little girl. [laughter] you can't be a journalist. women don't do that.
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and certainly black women don't do that. you need to go become a teacher so you can take care of yourself. you can always get a teaching job, but we don't want to spend tuition, and it was a struggle for them to get my tuition together for me. and it was like, you need to be a teacher or a nurse or a social worker. that's just about all the things young women in the early '60s would aspire to. and i was just, no, i don't want to do that. i really want to do this. so there were a lot of fights in my household and a lot of slamming of my door and putting my foot down. >> host: right. >> guest: and, again, this was the first no. no, you can't do this. and i was just determined. and finally, they saw i was, i was not going to be happy, i was not going to be a good person to live with unless i, i got this
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opportunity. [laughter] so they supported me, and i thank god for having supportive parents who didn't go to college but made sure me and my sister did. >> host: and then at some point you hear a second no, the second of many nos when you apply to school, northwestern. >> northwestern university in evanston, illinois, was right outside chicago, and that's where i wanted to go because at the time it was one of the best journalism schools in the country. and i had great grades, as i told you, i was in all kinds of activities and things. and i had a b+/a-average from high school, and i applied to northwestern, and little did i know there was a quota system going on. they've acknowledged it now that there was a quota of the number of jews and the number of blacks that they took into the college.
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so i go to this admissions counselor, and he tells me i was wasting my time, that i needed to go become a nice english teacher, that i could get a job can. but i'd never get a job working for the chicago tribune. so i knew what was going to happen, and i got the rejection notice a few weeks later. we regret to inform you that -- i remember those first words. >> host: the thin envelope. >> guest: thin envelope. no forms to fill out, no housing -- [laughter] >> host: yeah. >> guest: little tiny letter. and i was, like, and my parents, thank god, didn't say, we told you so. but i said, well, i'm applying some place else. >> host: and you do just that, and you end up eventually graduating from where and what year? >> guest: university of michigan, and why do you want the year so everybody will know how old i am? is. [laughter] >> host: well, never mind.
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>> guest: 1962. >> host: 1962 you're in dan, and you did well in school? >> guest: i did well in school again, and there were 60 graduates in my class from journalism, and everyone had a job at graduation time except me. >> host: the little red hen did not have a job again. >> guest: and so i went to work at the chicago public library where with i had worked every summer from the time i was 15 years old. here i am with a degree, and i'm going back to my high school job. [laughter] my college summer job. and i was disappointed, but i just felt something's going to happen, something's going to happen. and i got this call from my dean at the school saying that he had lined up an internship for me. it didn't look good for the university to have one black student who did not have a job, so he worked very hard to make that happen, and that's how i


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